The problem is that this person cannot speak Scots.
August 25, 2020 9:11 AM   Subscribe

 
Crivens!
posted by Mchelly at 9:13 AM on August 25 [7 favorites]


It sounds a little silly until you get to the Reddit poster's point
I think this person has possibly done more damage to the Scots language than anyone else in history. They engaged in cultural vandalism on a hitherto unprecedented scale
Who at Wikipedia is responsible for fixing a problem of this size?
posted by Nelson at 9:20 AM on August 25 [34 favorites]


Jings!
posted by GeckoDundee at 9:21 AM on August 25 [1 favorite]


Yeah, sorry to start off joking, but it just seems crazy that this could happen - he just saw an opportunity where no one Scots cared enough to contribute, and he jumped in?

I wouldn't be surprised if it turned out he's also a major contributor to other small-demographic and roman-alphabet-using wikis.
posted by Mchelly at 9:28 AM on August 25 [3 favorites]


Based on the reddit thread and my very limited follow-up, it appears initially to be someone who doesn't know what they're doing but their dedication looks to be seriously misguided rather than troll-like. Almost textbook Dunning-Kruger with a side of focused obsession. The problem isn't necessarily this person's misguided enthusiasm but that it got so far out of hand without anyone putting a stop to it. What a fiasco.
posted by tclark at 9:31 AM on August 25 [9 favorites]


In other words, Ecce Homo, John Duns Scotus style.
posted by tclark at 9:33 AM on August 25 [2 favorites]


Seriously though, a lot of what passes for Scots on the internet is, let's say, problematic. Even when just writing, I don't really know what to call it, "English" doesn't seem right, but just normal stuff, a lot of people seem compelled to use phonetic spelling to reflect how they would speak. In a way that seems reasonable enough, but it reflects a wider uncertainty in the language. As one of the Reddit commentators points out, there's a lot of difference across the range "fae the Broons tae Doric". When you throw in Scottish English and most people's habit of code-switching between different forms of English, it's a mess.

Ultimately, it's a political issue as much as anything. Scots don't really know what Scots is, so things like this can happen pretty easily.
posted by GeckoDundee at 9:34 AM on August 25 [13 favorites]


Seriously though, a lot of what passes for Scots on the internet is, let's say, problematic. Even when just writing, I don't really know what to call it, "English" doesn't seem right, but just normal stuff, a lot of people seem compelled to use phonetic spelling to reflect how they would speak.

As I understand it, written Modern Scots (a) has a much more tight connection between orthography and pronunciation than English's loosey-goosey spelling rules, and (b) is a bit more influenced by Robert Burns's poetry than it's really willing to admit. Those two combine to make Scots look a lot like transcription of dialect pronunciation, because that's how its orthography rules were constructed.

Part of this I think comes from the fact that written Scots sort of faded in and out of widespread usage depending on political and cultural factors and the orthography got redesigned every time it became a written language again. Looking at languages in continuous, widespread written use, orthography ends up having a momentum of its own which tends to diverge from the spoken language as pronunciation and spelling get standardized in different ways (English has this in spades; other languages less so). But if you're building an orthography from scratch (as Burns and post-Burns developers of the language did), you might as well set down what "looks like the language sounds" (spoken by the native speakers, who are Scottish), and all the shared words between English and Scots have spellings that look like some sort of dialect transcription.

(My take on Scots, having hacked my way through But n Ben A Go-Go is that it's slightly less similar to modern English than Middle English is. I found it a little bit less comprehensible than Chaucer on a vocabulary level and roughly equivalent on a grammatical level, which is what led me to that conclusion.)
posted by jackbishop at 9:48 AM on August 25 [7 favorites]


I was under the impression that Scots, in the classic sense, had been an offshoot of Middle English which has since gone extinct, replaced by a regional variant of modern English, and whether this may be called Scots (whether on grounds of continuity from the original Scots, or by virtue of being a cousin language spoken in Scotland) was a matter for some debate.
posted by acb at 9:49 AM on August 25 [1 favorite]


Quoted without comment from the editor's profile: Apairt frae Wikipaedia, A'm a brony, and an INTP ...

Americans can do a whole lot of damage when they love a culture, up to and including constructing huge fake amounts of that culture. Americans who are super into their rediscovered distant Scottish ancestry tend to enjoy being Ethnic in a fun, consequence-free sort of way, but I always thought that was harmless, if cringe. But this is not harmless at all.
posted by Countess Elena at 9:55 AM on August 25 [45 favorites]


As Robyn Speer points out, this has implications for translation software: If you have a multilingual language model, this fakery might be your _entire training data_ for Scots
posted by Cash4Lead at 9:55 AM on August 25 [49 favorites]


he just saw an opportunity where no one Scots cared enough to contribute, and he jumped in?

OTOH, he self-identifies as a brony, a subculture with its roots in 4chan-adjacent trolling/griefing. (Much of it was essentially the cultural equivalent of a panty raid, a bunch of dudes raiding feminine-coded cultural territory.)

As such, I'd be more inclined to think that he did it for lulz and mudkipz than that he was acting in good faith.
posted by acb at 10:02 AM on August 25 [8 favorites]


Yeah, sorry to start off joking, but it just seems crazy that this could happen - he just saw an opportunity where no one Scots cared enough to contribute, and he jumped in?

The problem with places like Wikipedia and Reddit is that there's a huge first-mover advantage. This guy became the Administrator of the Scots wikipedia, and he's able to use the tools to force reverts of his edits and writings. He can ban someone who tries to fix it.

If someone really, really cared, they could run it up the flagpole and hope that the Wikipedia bosses care, but most people who care a bit probably give up because it's hard to get their edits to stick.

On Reddit, you end up with splinter groups if the original's bad enough, but Wikipedia isn't about to allow an "Actual Scots" wiki to exist alongside this guy's bullshit.

The dream of "anyone can edit" was nice and all, but in practice the power-users make it pretty difficult for other folks to make contributions.
posted by explosion at 10:06 AM on August 25 [35 favorites]


When someone brought this up to them on their talk page earlier this year, after having created tens of thousands of articles and having been the primary administrator for the Scots Language Wikipedia for 7 years, they said “Never thought about that, I’ll keep that in mind.”

I think this guy maybe has some underlying issues apart from thinking that Scots is his own personal conlang. Imagine making a totally basic error, in public, hundreds of times, while presenting yourself as enough of an authority to be a major contributor, and responding "I'll keep that in mind". Like, he might just be a terrible person, and this is totally cultural vandalism, but I wouldn't rush to judgment. Wikipedia community managers really really really need to bring down the hammer on the activity though.
posted by Wrinkled Stumpskin at 10:20 AM on August 25 [5 favorites]


Someone with more wikicode savvy than me should edit an article beyond that admin's control to publicize this at Wikipedia.
posted by Fukiyama at 10:23 AM on August 25 [8 favorites]


Like, he might just be a terrible person, and this is totally cultural vandalism, but I wouldn't rush to judgment.

He doesn't have to be a terrible person for this to be cultural vandalism.
posted by showbiz_liz at 10:25 AM on August 25 [41 favorites]


I don't think there's much danger of it, but just imagine if this somehow became a primary source for linguistic study in a few hundred years. Future generations left with very few other written or spoken records of Scots and finding this, missing the critical context about the author, and assuming that this was just how the language worked. After all, it's quite a large corpus.
posted by figurant at 10:27 AM on August 25


This reminds me of a problem in taxonomy, where a few prolific nincompoops can wreck a great deal of damage and the work of fixing it overwhelms responsible researchers who, after all, have real work to do.

ETA: there was an FPP on taxonomic vandalism
posted by sjswitzer at 10:28 AM on August 25 [11 favorites]


connection between orthography and pronunciation than English

when watching snooker on yt I'm always impressed with Stephen Hendry's intonation on 'that was a pʊɹ shot'
posted by Heywood Mogroot III at 10:31 AM on August 25




Correct link for taxonomic vandalism FPP
posted by sjswitzer at 10:35 AM on August 25 [5 favorites]


This is going to blow up and end badly. It’s been bad in secret, now it’s bad in public, and it will have a bad finish.
posted by Going To Maine at 10:37 AM on August 25 [7 favorites]


OTOH, he self-identifies as a brony, a subculture with its roots in 4chan-adjacent trolling/griefing. (Much of it was essentially the cultural equivalent of a panty raid, a bunch of dudes raiding feminine-coded cultural territory.)

As such, I'd be more inclined to think that he did it for lulz and mudkipz than that he was acting in good faith.
posted by acb at 1:02 PM on August 25


I disagree. All his comments seem like the work itself: utterly sincere, but utterly misguided. If his listed aged is correct, then he would have started doing this as a very young teenager, and has since spent many thousands of hours on it. (It also means he may have been too young for that era of brony stuff you're talking about.) To me, this really does seem like someone who went far beyond their abilities on a topic they personally cared about. They never got the assistance they needed, and the end result is... well.

What a fiasco. It's hard to know if there's much to salvage out of this.
posted by ZaphodB at 10:39 AM on August 25 [17 favorites]


This reminds me of a problem in taxonomy, where a few prolific nincompoops can wreck a great deal of damage and the work of fixing it overwhelms responsible researchers who, after all, have real work to do.
posted by sjswitzer at 1:28 PM on August 25 [+] [!]


Metafilter: A Few Prolific Nincompoops
posted by ZaphodB at 10:40 AM on August 25 [18 favorites]


I'm not okay with suggesting that someone on the internet is on the spectrum, and I know I'm not alone. I flagged but it doesn't look like it's going to be addressed, so I wanted to unequivocally state that it's not okay.
posted by cooker girl at 10:43 AM on August 25 [27 favorites]


I find the sudden brony bashing to be a bit odd. As a furry, I'm somewhat brony-adjacent, and my understanding of them as a subculture is not that they're 4chan-ish at all, but rather are very sincere in their interest in the life lessons the series is trying to teach and are very interested in spreading good will in the world.

Perhaps there are two versions of brony, but the version I've known is compassionate and kind and is trying to make the world a better place.
posted by hippybear at 10:49 AM on August 25 [24 favorites]


cooker girl, I apologize. It is okay with me if the comment is deleted. I don’t want a derail.
posted by Countess Elena at 10:51 AM on August 25


Thanks for that insight, hippybear. That description does align pretty darn well with the idea that this is a well-intentioned disaster, rather than bad faith trolling. Not that it changes the amount of damage that's been done...
posted by ZaphodB at 10:53 AM on August 25


No, the whole situation is a disaster.
posted by hippybear at 10:53 AM on August 25


This is the input to our new wonderful AI overlords. At least we'll be able to figure out the Terminators by asking them to speak Scots.
posted by benzenedream at 11:10 AM on August 25 [7 favorites]


I don't think the young man's intentions or neurotype or mental health are really very important here. Whatever his intent was, he's done truly massive cultural damage, and at no point did anyone involved with the institution he stepped into vet his work or check it against any other linguistic sources. I think the big question here is: what is the institutional responsibility? How do we prevent things like this from happening? Wikipedia is both an incredibly important resource and also has massive institutional problems with recruiting and broadening participation. With great cultural power comes great responsibility. Saying "oh, well, don't use or trust Wikipedia" is easy enough, but this case illustrates clearly how much cultural power Wikipedia actually wields.

This system is badly broken. Will it be repaired, or will the culture of Wikipedia shunt all blame defensively onto a single person who should never have been allowed to do what he did?
posted by sciatrix at 11:18 AM on August 25 [34 favorites]


he just saw an opportunity where no one Scots cared enough to contribute

This is one of those situations where I feel very confident I know more than all but a couple of commenters in the thread, but also do not know anything like enough to correct the misapprehensions in all the remaining comments, but I'll try. People who've lived more than 10% of their life in Scotland, please correct me.

It's probably worth mentioning here that almost everyone in this thread needs to read the broadly accurate (English) Wikipedia page Scots Language before contributing.

The status of Scots as a written language is something that's being recovered and reconstituted from its remains, having been effectively subsumed by written English. As a spoken language, it's not in danger, but it varies a lot linguistically between locations. So the work that people are doing to rebuild Scots is much more about creating a standard written form.

Which means that while the work this contributor's done has been a gigantic waste of lots of people's time, it's unlikely to have any serious effect on the work that's being done to have a standard written Scots.
posted by ambrosen at 11:19 AM on August 25 [26 favorites]


At least we'll be able to figure out the Terminators by asking them to speak Scots.

No true Scotswiki?
posted by Mchelly at 11:19 AM on August 25 [6 favorites]


That description does align pretty darn well with the idea that this is a well-intentioned disaster, rather than bad faith trolling. Not that it changes the amount of damage that's been done...

This is suddenly reminding me of the Ecce Homo restoration a few years back.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:22 AM on August 25 [20 favorites]


As Robyn Speer points out, this has implications for translation software: If you have a multilingual language model, this fakery might be your _entire training data_ for Scots

Yeah, this is blowing up on NLP twitter because it seems like it isn't hypothetical and that actual existing systems for things like language detection are trained on "Scots" wikipedia as the only exemplar of the language. It's sort of a microcosm of various issues in how multi-lingual NLP systems are trained...

(As Robyn Speer also points out, it's sort of unclear whether this person is actually a teenager at this point, since they have, reportedly, been at this for ~10 years.)
posted by advil at 11:34 AM on August 25 [14 favorites]


I took a look at this user's wikipedia edit history to try to see how it all started. It seems that they started out in Feb. 2013 with relatively small edits, things like fixing some broken text, creating category pages and adding pages to categories, adding infobox type stuff, etc... However, after a bit more than 1000 of such edits in the space of just under a month (!), they started to create new pages starting with four seemingly unrelated (?) cities: Sapporo, Japan; Yamoussokro, Cote d'Ivoire; Antananarivo, Madagascar; and Charlotte, NC, USA. By April 2013, they started a spree of creating new pages for all kinds of topics (not just cities), in addition to keeping up with minor edits. I don't have the time to trawl through the following 7+ years of edit history to see how their pace has kept up over time but the sheer intensity of this person's wikipedia editing is formidable. It's a shame that they've misdirected their energies so badly, though. If they had stuck with only cleanup edits rather than material contributions in a language they didn't actually understand, it would probably have been better for everyone.
posted by mhum at 11:35 AM on August 25 [12 favorites]


I'd be more inclined to think that he did it for lulz and mudkipz than that he was acting in good faith.

Yeah but nearly a decade of lulz? Twenty thousand articles??
posted by EndsOfInvention at 11:44 AM on August 25 [3 favorites]


Oddly reminiscent of the James Macpherson affair in the 18th Century.
posted by jamjam at 11:47 AM on August 25 [6 favorites]


This is suddenly reminding me of the Ecce Homo restoration a few years back.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 2:22 PM on August 25


I tried to control myself, but the thing that popped into my mind was "the best laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men/gang aft agley."

It's a staggering amount of too on the nose but to hell with it, it's 2020, irony is dead.
posted by ZaphodB at 11:49 AM on August 25 [6 favorites]


Many years ago I met a man on a San Francisco bus who was telling anyone who boarded the bus that he had written more Polish Wikipedia articles than anyone else. He was the typical San Francisco weirdo, politely ignored by everyone hoping he would become somebody else's problem.

Of course I started a conversation with him. This the short version:

He was not Polish.
He had never been to Poland.
He had never studied Polish.
He used machine translation, a dictionary, and his "highly developed innate intuition for foreign languages".
His motivation was "to impress some Polish ladies and get laid".
No Polish ladies had been impressed so far, but he was not ready to give up after all the work he had put in the project.

I will not try to guess what motivates anyone to do something like this.
posted by Dr. Curare at 11:51 AM on August 25 [59 favorites]


I will not try to guess what motivates anyone to do something like this.

In the case of the "well-intentioned but ignorant", I'm also reminded of something I heard David Letterman say once - "most people don't realize it takes just as much brain power to cough up a bad idea as it does a good one."

You want to do something to help put good into the world. You get what you think is a good idea for how to do that. However, you don't really know enough about the topic or yourself to realize that you're doing more harm than good.

Maybe if you'd done some research to find out more about your idea you'd have figured it out; or maybe you'd have found an organization that's already doing what you want to do, but they're doing it the right way. Or maybe if you'd simply mentioned to a friend what your idea was, they could have told you "dude, you may need to slow down and check yourself there." But some people get so caught up in wanting to help that they jump in like gangbusters and don't take this step.

My heart goes out to these people, actually. Their hearts tend to be big.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:58 AM on August 25 [12 favorites]


...Oh, but that dude who tried Polish Wiki articles "to impress Polish ladies and get laid", that dude is a tool.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:59 AM on August 25 [16 favorites]


This comes up a lot with minority languages. Well-meaning members of the majority decide they can "help save" the language by learning it poorly (does no harm, does no good) and then promoting themselves as its public face (does active harm). You see it with amateurish sign language videos by barely-conversant hearing people getting more visibility than ones by fluent Deaf people. You see it with organizers doing crappy translations into a language they barely speak rather than hiring fluent bilinguals to do a good job. It's everywhere and it sucks.
posted by nebulawindphone at 12:04 PM on August 25 [44 favorites]


Prącie, surely. At least, that’s what google translate said.
posted by jenkinsEar at 12:04 PM on August 25


Is anyone checking the Polish wikipedia page?
posted by Nancy Lebovitz at 12:10 PM on August 25 [6 favorites]


I'm weirdly disappointed this didn't end up being about an obsessive "Outlander" fan.
posted by thivaia at 12:16 PM on August 25 [2 favorites]


This is like the entire internet boiled down to one incident. Someone who is for whatever reason fixated on a topic and without insight is able to take over and seriously mangle a system because the system is incredibly loosely-goosey and abusable, does not pay anyone and thus does not have the quantity of regular responsible oversight that is needed; this has enormous knock-on effects for people who are not even aware of the original issue and yet there is almost no way to fix it due to the loosey-goosey/no-money situation. If it were 2005 it would be extremely unfortunate but would have its comic elements, but now we're aware that this whole process is a large part of the rise of, eg, Qanon, online white nationalists, etc. \

We have a large, powerful, largely oversightless system that can be turned harmful by anyone who for whatever reason doesn't care about anything except using it to cause harm. Everyone else has kids, jobs, hobbies, health concerns, family, etc, but a small number of people who don't care for anything except their obsession can bring everything else down.
posted by Frowner at 12:21 PM on August 25 [48 favorites]


There was a guy like this who did a lot of damage to Icelandic Wikipedia and articles about the Icelandic language on various Wikipedias. It took years to undo. Such a huge waste of everybody’s time.
posted by Kattullus at 12:23 PM on August 25 [23 favorites]


This is obviously very concerning, but equally concerning is the idea that people working on machine translation might be using unvetted corpora to train their algorithms without consulting at the very least a native speaker of the language if not a professional translator. I hope this isn't actually a common practice, and I would hope that major players in machine translation would be smart enough to realize that an actual expert is required to compile the training set rather than blindly feeding in data from non-English Wikipedias or any other publicly-contributed corpus without having someone competent in the language check its quality. Especially for minority languages like Scots. Problems with Wikipedia aside, failing to do that kind of basic due diligence in vetting a training set seems like machine learning malpractice.
posted by biogeo at 12:25 PM on August 25 [21 favorites]


There was a guy like this who did a lot of damage to Icelandic Wikipedia and articles about the Icelandic language on various Wikipedias. It took years to undo. Such a huge waste of everybody’s time.
Kattullus

Interesting. Was it a similar case of a seemingly well-meaning non-Icelander bungling things, or was this a case of malicious activity?
posted by star gentle uterus at 12:30 PM on August 25


There's also the issue that majority members can easily trick themselves into thinking they understand a minority language better than they do. White Americans (including me for much of my life) tend to think we understand AAVE well. But if you give us a quiz to test our comprehension, we do very poorly. Basically, we imagine that the language is strictly simpler than white English, and that when we run into distinctions like "is" versus "be" that we don't understand, we can just treat them as random noise and ignore them. But they aren't random noise — they're meaningful, and we miss that meaning.

There was a great research project on white people's understanding of AAVE dialogue in The Wire. People rated their comprehension as high, when in fact they weren't even correctly identifying the words they were hearing, much less catching the meaning. There's been other research showing that courts of law have the same problem — many transcriptionists can't even accurately record the testimony of AAVE speakers, and many judges and juries completely misunderstand its content, but everyone in the room assumes they understand it perfectly (and when they're confused, assume the witness is incoherent rather than recognizing themselves as the problem).

So I dunno. This shit is everywhere. It makes perfect sense to me that this kid thinks he can treat Scots as a substitution cypher for English, because I grew up in a culture that treats AAVE and white English the same way and I've seen my own semi-successful struggle to stop seeing the world like that.
posted by nebulawindphone at 12:30 PM on August 25 [89 favorites]


I hope this isn't actually a common practice, and I would hope that major players in machine translation would be smart enough to realize that an actual expert is required to compile the training set rather than blindly feeding in data from non-English Wikipedias or any other publicly-contributed corpus without having someone competent in the language check its quality.

Nope, it happens. You get really crappy feedback loops where people then use the machine translation to create web pages, which get added to the corpus. There's a lot of "Yiddish" web pages out there that are just sheer gibberish because of this happening with Google translate.
posted by damayanti at 12:39 PM on August 25 [19 favorites]


So I dunno. This shit is everywhere. It makes perfect sense to me that this kid thinks he can treat Scots as a substitution cypher for English, because I grew up in a culture that treats AAVE and white English the same way and I've seen my own semi-successful struggle to stop seeing the world like that.

It's not just that, though - it's the way that a system without any oversight amplifies whatever failings an individual is socialized to have. Like, in my high school there was this sort of snobs' club for people obsessed with Ireland, or "Ireland" if you will. People had what were obviously terrible and wrong takes on everything Irish, really had very little idea about contemporary Ireland, were not themselves Irish and were well-enough off that their families did a good bit of travel to Western Europe. (And this was in the nineties, so there wasn't the kind of cheaper tourism that evolved later - traveling to Europe as a teen was huge and it was never, ever on the table for anyone but kids from very wealthy families.) But because this was a small high school club of affluent kids and there wasn't any internet, well, they had to keep their obsessions pretty small-scale. They could have all kinds of stupid and bad ideas but they weren't going to be creating any major online reference material.

It's like, there's a way to disrupt this kind of thing - don't create large, powerful systems with no oversight (like the court system) because those magnify the ways that ignorance and racism play out in the individual. But large powerful systems with oversight are expensive and occasionally work in favor of the vulnerable, so we can't have them .

~~

On another note: I think that there's a particular kind of white American obsession with Scotland and Ireland that is its own thing. In a general way, it flows from the same racist and colonialist ideas that give rise to white supremacy, but it's different because it's about a kind of primitive gentility - it's classy, it's a class gesture. It's a way to have Olde Worlde stuff without the taint of Eastern Europe (uncivilized, commies), France (effete, fussy), Germany (uptight, cuckoo-clock), etc etc etc.
posted by Frowner at 12:43 PM on August 25 [26 favorites]


Christ, what a wee radge bampot.
posted by w0mbat at 12:46 PM on August 25 [16 favorites]


He used machine translation, a dictionary, and his "highly developed innate intuition for foreign languages".
His motivation was "to impress some Polish ladies and get laid".


Trying to pull that with Polish, of all languages, is a ballsy move. It's not the easiest language, to say the least.
posted by acb at 12:47 PM on August 25


The first time I really, truly understood what "culture appropriation" meant was the time many years ago, when I went to a lecture at Plimoth Plantation about how the Wampanoag oral language was being re-constructed for the first time (among other things, using Bibles that the Pilgrims had transcribed), and Wampanoags were now speaking it in their homes with their children, including infants.

"That's wonderful!" a fellow attendee said, "will we able to take lessons?"

The lecturer said, very diplomatically, that they were currently limiting lessons to members of the tribe, since "we want a much, much better grasp of it before the white people start claiming that they know the language better than some of the natives."

I was raised in a bleeding-liberal, we-are-all-the-same atmosphere, and hearing this was a huge a-ha moment for me. Better late than never.
posted by Melismata at 12:48 PM on August 25 [44 favorites]


Or maybe if you'd simply mentioned to a friend what your idea was, they could have told you "dude, you may need to slow down and check yourself there."

Some time into his editing spree, actual Scots speakers did check him, but he kept on going. At that point, I'd stop giving him the benefit of the doubt.
posted by airmail at 12:48 PM on August 25 [16 favorites]


It's a way to have Olde Worlde stuff without the taint of Eastern Europe (uncivilized, commies), France (effete, fussy), Germany (uptight, cuckoo-clock), etc etc etc.

Also, they have tartans and folk dances and heroic myths of great derring-do, often in romantically futile resistance to the English, which serves to preempt the “are we the baddies?” moment when reflecting on any white European heroic myths after 1945.

For some reason, the Welsh don't get this romanticising treatment. Perhaps they're seen as too proletarian?
posted by acb at 12:52 PM on August 25 [2 favorites]


Some time into his editing spree, actual Scots speakers did check him, but he kept on going. At that point, I'd stop giving him the benefit of the doubt.

Do you have the link to that incident?

From my browsing I saw very little edit activity, even on you'd think relevant topics (e.g. Brexit or SNP). So I was imagining this user working generally without feedback and keeping going, ever more confident.
posted by mark k at 12:52 PM on August 25


star gentle uterus: Interesting. Was it a similar case of a seemingly well-meaning non-Icelander bungling things, or was this a case of malicious activity?

He was a guy who didn’t really speak Icelandic who felt qualified to instruct Icelanders in how Icelandic should be spoken and written. That’s way past bungling for me and well into neocolonial shitwit territory.
posted by Kattullus at 12:53 PM on August 25 [17 favorites]


Do you have the link to that incident?

mark k, ctrl+f "On a few occasions" in the linked Reddit post.
posted by airmail at 12:55 PM on August 25


> mark k: "Do you have the link to that incident?"

I found two instances on their user page (archive 1) where a native Scots speaker comes in with an explanation of how what this user is doing isn't really in the Scots language. Here's the response to one of these:
I'm not sure what to tell you. I may be American, but I've seen a lot of native Scots speakers contribute here. And their contributions were similar to mine. --AmaryllisGardener talk 16:24, 4 Dizember 2014 (UTC)
And here are the responses to the the other:
@Amadan1995: Well, what you have there looks more like Scottish Gaelic or Irish. What we go by overall is the Online Scots Dictionary. --AmaryllisGardener talk 22:08, 23 Apryle 2016 (UTC)

@Amadan1995: Well, I'm not the only editor here, there were native Scots speakers that wrote like it is on here before me. --AmaryllisGardener talk 22:34, 23 Apryle 2016 (UTC)
posted by mhum at 1:05 PM on August 25 [8 favorites]


you don't really know enough about the topic or yourself to realize that you're doing more harm than good.

As tclark mentioned, "Almost textbook Dunning-Kruger, a "...cognitive bias in which people with low ability at a task overestimate their ability. It ... comes from the inability of people to recognize their lack of ability."
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 1:14 PM on August 25 [4 favorites]


Although, to be fair, on their main (non-archive) user page they seem to currently acknowledge that they might have fucked up:
If I had to do over I would've kept to more cleanup and just keeping the wiki up and running instead of writing articles, but I meant the best... --AmaryllisGardener talk 16:41, 25 August 2020 (UTC)
posted by mhum at 1:15 PM on August 25 [8 favorites]


There might be a happy ending after all - someone has set up a facebook group for native-speakers to go over the articles and also contacted the editor in question who seems to realize the errors of his ways now.

I'm positively surprised (I looked at his talk page before I found the facebook-group; it didn't seem very promising with regard to his handling of feedback; little reaction to complaints about his translation; various references about "drama" on english-wiki). Seems like sometimes it takes a bit of a pile-on.
posted by sohalt at 1:21 PM on August 25 [16 favorites]


I just discovered in scrolling through his user page that the user in question is from North Carolina. Here is a thing that many non-Carolinians don't know about the Carolinas: Most of western/central NC and upstate SC were colonized in the 1600s by what we call Scots-Irish people, which I believe is what Scots would call Ulster Scots. The Charlotte area still has a truly extraordinary number of Presbyterian churches.

As a result, even though it was a long time ago, there are many white families who trace their origins to those early settlers (often still attending the same Presbyterian churches their ancestors founded) and are still super into being Scottish. They wear kilts at their weddings. They have the annual Kirkin of the Tartans (random link to church in upstate SC who has a lot of detail about it). They play the bagpipes and do highland games. It doesn't seem at all farfetched that they suddenly decide they know Scots and start editing Scots Wikipedia.

And so I suspect that this is the origin of ::gestures wildly:: all that.

(Source--I am Presbyterian, grew up in the Charlotte area, have a Scots-Irish family name from my upstate SC ancestors, and my dad wears a tie with the Middleton tartan of his grandma's family on a regular basis because he likes being Scottish and our family name isn't associated with its own tartan)
posted by hydropsyche at 1:25 PM on August 25 [33 favorites]


Honestly the best outcome of this would be native speakers being involved in creating Scots Wikipedia, and if this is what it took to wake them up and draw them toward that task, then maybe it's an actual good thing.
posted by hippybear at 1:26 PM on August 25 [3 favorites]


This exchange is particularly grim:
[Native speaker]: To show an example I've translated a paragraph from Scots Wikipedia into native Scots:

From the wikipedia: "Elephants are lairge land mammals o the order Proboscidea an the faimlie Elephantidae. Thare are twa bidin spece: the African Bush an the Asie Elephant (alsa cried aes the Indian Elephant). Ither spece hae acome extinct langsyne the last ice aige, the Mammoths bein the best-known o these. Thay war ance classified alang wi ither thick skinned ainimals in a nou invalid order, Pachydermata"

Native Scots: "Opsr mucil lan baists fe i Proboscidea ratur in fe i Elphantidae faimle. þurs two cins: i Efrics op in i Aischin op (caud i Inde op ano). Iður cins deid siȝn i hinmaist iȝs aij, i Mamifsr i maist cet ȝins. We iður gute huiylit baists þe wur pit in i rang ratur, nú cet te bi rang, Pachydermata"

[Wrong editor]: Well, what you have there looks more like Scottish Gaelic or Irish
Just ouch.

I'm glad to hear that the editor will no longer be hostile to native speakers.
posted by ambrosen at 1:29 PM on August 25 [21 favorites]


The editor should be banned for life and whoever runs Wikipedia should be making serious changes to how these language sites are governed, or resigning. Or both.

Trying to spin this as a positive where this person learns a life lesson and then continues on vastly undervalues the damage that was done.
posted by Spacelegoman at 1:39 PM on August 25 [18 favorites]


I just discovered in scrolling through his user page that the user in question is from North Carolina...

Aha. Yes, this makes total sense.

I (a fellow North Carolinian) would love to know what a Scottish person would make of the Grandfather Mountain Highland Games.
posted by showbiz_liz at 1:41 PM on August 25 [2 favorites]


Who at Wikipedia is responsible for fixing a problem of this size?

As many people have alluded to above in the conversation, Wikipedia's stance is that this is everyone else's problem to fix. Nobody was translating wikipedia into Scots, and we rely on moral duty to repair it.
posted by pwnguin at 1:46 PM on August 25 [3 favorites]


If you make contributing to Wikipedia too intimidating or time-consuming for anybody but manchild rules-lawyering rage needs to participate, then maybe the knowledge might get a wee bit distorted, mmmmkay?
posted by jonp72 at 1:52 PM on August 25 [23 favorites]


If you make contributing to Wikipedia too intimidating or time-consuming for anybody but manchild rules-lawyering rage needs to participate, then maybe the knowledge might get a wee bit distorted, mmmmkay?

I remember once correcting a clear typo on some (large, probably frequently visted) Wikipedia page, then seeing my edit immediately reverted. This wasn't a situation where the change was a matter of opinion, it was an obvious mistake. I then checked the talk page and... it had multiple complaints about the page editor arbitrarily reverting other people's additions. Clearly nothing had been done about these complaints. I then gave up on ever again editing Wikipedia.
posted by showbiz_liz at 1:56 PM on August 25 [29 favorites]


Genuine Scot over here. I've never waded into editing Scots language wikipedia myself - apart from anything else, I feel like I don't speak enough Scots to be qualified to write it (although apparently that's no barrier...) As people have already noted, there is no standard Scots language the way there is standard English, and particularly no standard written form, so I'm not even sure what a Scots wikipedia page would look like written by native speakers. But some of these translations are just hilariously bad. Even if the user was well intentioned, it's just so far off the mark, even for an automated translation. It's like the time when I was 10 and decided to learn German by writing down a bunch of English phrases then translating them word-for-word with a German dictionary. E.g. replacing every instance of "also" with "an aw" - this is really jarring, "an aw" basically never goes anywhere except the end of a sentence, used in sort of the same way as "too" or "and everything". I also have no idea what's going on with replacing every phonetic "eh" and "ih" sound with "ee". I have never heard anyone pronounce "edit" as "eedit".
posted by AllShoesNoSocks at 2:04 PM on August 25 [9 favorites]


Talking of “an aw”...

I heard a caller on a Radio Scotland football show claim to have heard a belter of a phrase at a Celtic game. A fan registered his disgust at the choice of substitute. The game wasn’t going very well and then Enrico Annoni came on to the pitch...


“Aw naw, ‘at’s Annoni on an aw no”
posted by gnuhavenpier at 2:14 PM on August 25 [8 favorites]


Thanks for the people who pointed me directly to the attempted corrections. There was so much going on I seem to have glided over the mention in the OP but that screenshot is a doozy and the other examples are worse. (I mean, they are better examples, just of worse behaviors.)
posted by mark k at 2:22 PM on August 25


Wikipedia's stance is that this is everyone else's problem to fix

And yet they created the problem, and host it, and created the system that allowed it and perpetuates it. As several people have alluded to Wikipedia culture is completely toxic and broken. I've long since given up trying to contribute good faith edits on anything any "serious" Wikipedia editor might care about. Their position has been that mostly, well, that's OK. Just look how great it is! And fine, I mostly find English language Wikipedia is pretty good.

But here we have a case where apparently an entire language Wikipedia is just wrong. You think that'd encourage some institutional soul searching.
posted by Nelson at 2:42 PM on August 25 [19 favorites]


Someone with more wikicode savvy than me should edit an article beyond that admin's control to publicize this at Wikipedia.

I can do that.

Wikipedia is a terrible online experiment, except for all the worse ones.

And part of it is the vacuum that Wikipdia operates in. There's a small group of employees and clubby insiders with privs, a large and not tightly-connected group of occasional volunteers, and then a huge swath of the rest of the world who only knows about it what they read in other mainstream media which vacillated wildly between "This is an amazing experiment" and "This one time I got in a fight there and fuck the entire place and burn it to the ground" And, of course, it's amusing to read about this on Reddit which is another amazing-and-also-awful experiment, except it's a business, not a non-profit.

Everyone's got to make their peace with the fact that these amazing-awful places exist in the internet world and are incredibly popular among the people who interact there, reviled by others, and then unknown by the rest of the world. Like, in the IRL world, if you had a projects that had millions of volunteers worldwide, you might at least know about it (or could look up more of it) but Wikipedia is so much its own hype machine in a lot of ways (for better and worse) that they kind of exist in a weird vacuum where they're a household name, millions of people use it every day but very very few know how it works and even fewer have any reasonable ability to change how it works.

I hope someone gets a bot and runs through ALL of Scots Wikipedia and puts some sort of warning banner over every single page. That's a thing a person could do.
posted by jessamyn at 2:58 PM on August 25 [32 favorites]


showbiz_liz, I have a similar story from a few years ago. My day job includes practice in one very niche area of law, and that topic had a Wikipedia entry that was generally accurate but weirdly out of date. On one slow day, I deleted the cases that had been moved away from/overturned and added a couple of paragraphs built on references for the last 40ish years of significant decisions. The edits were reverted within hours as not being notable or worthy of inclusion.

I took a look at the person who'd reverted the page, and they were the creators for the Wikipedia pages of a few dozen niche legal topics. The topics were a ludicrously broad range, more than any one person could speak knowledgeably about. And for the few areas I had some knowledge of, the entries were again weirdly dated.

Based on the content and the range of entries, I suspected that iron-fisted editor was a non-lawyer with a couple of old legal textbooks, and that they were creating Wikipedia pages about niche topics and populating them with paraphrased entries of whatever the books said. I said "screw it," turned my summary into something for the firm's website, and haven't tried to edit Wikipedia since.
posted by ZaphodB at 2:58 PM on August 25 [26 favorites]


I need to butt out of this thread, but on the topic of Reddit calling out Wikipedia, there's this from a couple of years ago:

Why does High School Musical's Corbin Bleu have the third-most widely translated Wikipedia page of any person, living or dead?
posted by ZaphodB at 3:03 PM on August 25 [6 favorites]


This exchange is particularly grim:
[Native speaker]: To show an example I've translated a paragraph from Scots Wikipedia into native Scots:

From the wikipedia: "Elephants are lairge land mammals o the order Proboscidea an the faimlie Elephantidae. Thare are twa bidin spece: the African Bush an the Asie Elephant (alsa cried aes the Indian Elephant). Ither spece hae acome extinct langsyne the last ice aige, the Mammoths bein the best-known o these. Thay war ance classified alang wi ither thick skinned ainimals in a nou invalid order, Pachydermata"

Native Scots: "Opsr mucil lan baists fe i Proboscidea ratur in fe i Elphantidae faimle. þurs two cins: i Efrics op in i Aischin op (caud i Inde op ano). Iður cins deid siȝn i hinmaist iȝs aij, i Mamifsr i maist cet ȝins. We iður gute huiylit baists þe wur pit in i rang ratur, nú cet te bi rang, Pachydermata"

[Wrong editor]: Well, what you have there looks more like Scottish Gaelic or Irish


In his defense, okay, there are a lot of ways to spell Scots and no official spelling system, but this example seems like it's exaggerating the difference by using a very unusual one. Looking at actual Scots language websites, I see none of them using "ð" or "ȝ," for instance. (This page describes those letters as features of Old Scots, a long-dead language, and then teaches a spelling system for the modern language that looks much closer to what Fuckhead Editor is using.) I hate to defend him, he seems like an absolute dipshit, but it doesn't seem incredible that someone knowledgeable who used a more popular spelling system would be blindsided by that one.
posted by nebulawindphone at 3:04 PM on August 25 [6 favorites]


(I'd love to be proven wrong by someone with even a fraction more of a clue than me, though. Like, this is me finding that orthography odd and going down a google hole about it, not trying to claim any kind of expertise.)
posted by nebulawindphone at 3:07 PM on August 25 [1 favorite]


Surprised nobody has yet linked the classic Onion piece, I Bet I Can Speak Spanish.
posted by sjswitzer at 3:40 PM on August 25 [11 favorites]


Reminds me of some of the well-meaning mefites who answer language questions about languages they're not fluent in.
posted by signal at 3:52 PM on August 25 [8 favorites]


Wikipedia is a terrible online experiment, except for all the worse ones.

Is there anything that we might consider a “good” online experiment?
posted by Going To Maine at 4:03 PM on August 25


I guess maybe airnow.gov
posted by Going To Maine at 4:03 PM on August 25


Cookie clicker games?
posted by Carillon at 4:03 PM on August 25 [5 favorites]


To broaden this a bit, I’m wondering about the wildly varying quality (and content) of the different language editions or translations of Wikipedia articles. It’s definitely good that non-English speakers are served, but it is far from clear how well they are served. For instance the “translations” of the page on the Scots language sometimes sorta track the English version and are sometimes wildly different. There seems to be no expectation that changes in the “root version” (if that’s even a thing) will be reflected in the others, and after all who would do all that thankless labor?

I don’t believe that the Scots translations are serving any Scots-speaking community (demonstrably, they disserve it), and there can never be enough editors to keep it at all up to date. With all respect to Scots speakers and their language, the Scots translations/editions do not serve any useful purpose and the best solution is to burn it all down.
posted by sjswitzer at 4:03 PM on August 25


The hoose moose (Mus musculus) is a smaw mammal o the order Rodentia, chairacteristically haein a pyntit snoot, smaw roondit ears, an a lang nakit or awmaist hairless tail. It is ane o the maist numerous species o the genus Mus. Awtho a wild ainimal, the hoose moose mainly lives in association wi humans.
posted by bracems at 4:29 PM on August 25 [4 favorites]




from the above link, the poster replies:
Honestly, I don't mind if you revert all of my edits, delete my articles, and ban me from the wiki for good. I've already found out that my "contributions" have angered countless people, and to me that's all the devastation I can be given, after years of my thinking I was doing good (and yes, obsessively editing, I have OCD). I was only a 12-year-old kid when I started, and sometimes when you start something young, you can't see that the habit you've developed is unhealthy and unhelpful as you get older. I don't care about defending myself, I only want to stop being harassed on my social medias (and to stop my other friends who have nothing to do with the wiki from being harassed as well). Whether peace can by scowiki being kept like it is or extensively reformed to wipe my influence from it makes no difference to me now that I know that I've done no good anyway.
posted by CCBC at 4:48 PM on August 25 [16 favorites]


The editor, in the discussion:
Honestly, I don’t mind if you revert all of my edits, delete my articles, and ban me from the wiki for good. I've already found out that my “contributions” have angered countless people, and to me that's all the devastation I can be given, after years of my thinking I was doing good (and yes, obsessively editing, I have OCD). I was only a 12-year-old kid when I started, and sometimes when you start something young, you can't see that the habit you've developed is unhealthy and unhelpful as you get older. I don't care about defending myself, I only want to stop being harassed on my social medias (and to stop my other friends who have nothing to do with the wiki from being harassed as well). Whether peace can by scowiki being kept like it is or extensively reformed to wipe my influence from it makes no difference to me now that I know that I’ve done no good anyway.
... plus blowback to them for this comment as being insincere and a dodge and a failure to take responsibility.
posted by Going To Maine at 4:49 PM on August 25 [1 favorite]


I don’t believe that the Scots translations are serving any Scots-speaking community (demonstrably, they disserve it), and there can never be enough editors to keep it at all up to date. With all respect to Scots speakers and their language, the Scots translations/editions do not serve any useful purpose and the best solution is to burn it all down.

What purpose could it serve in a best-case scenario? How many Scots speakers would prefer a Scots encyclopedia to an English one? How many Scots speakers are significantly underserved by the English Wikipedia? In a situation where you have a largely-spoken minority language with high degrees of regional variation and a substantially intelligible majority language that has traditionally been the venue for reference texts for both communities, I'm not sure it makes much sense to devote any time at all to the development of a chimera-like encyclopedia in the minority language that serves few and pleases none. The entire enterprise was destined to become the domain of ignorant hobbyists, trolls, and cranks from the outset. I imagine you'd find something similar in, say, the West Flemish Wikipedia, just on a smaller scale since fewer people speak Dutch than English.
posted by Copronymus at 4:50 PM on August 25 [7 favorites]


Requests for comment/Disruptive editing on sco.wikipedia on an unparalleled scale

From that discussion:
It's worth keeping in mind, no one editor can ever ruin a project.

This take is not surprising to me at all. It exemplifies the attitude that technically it’s possible to fix, so they don’t have to do the actual human work to fix it.

Like previous MeFites, I too was run off from Wikipedia by self-important editors. Once I actually ran into a prolific Wikipedian at a party and he refused to believe me to the point of telling me that I must be lying.

For a project with lofty goals, Wikipedia empowers many of the pettiest people.
posted by Monochrome at 4:54 PM on August 25 [19 favorites]


digression: Cloud Atlas Pub Fight.
posted by ovvl at 5:08 PM on August 25 [1 favorite]


Metafilter: A Few Prolific Nincompoops

A few ?

Try A Myriad of
posted by y2karl at 5:20 PM on August 25


Not a Scot here, but as a Fiasco: this is definitely a fiasco.

It's terrible, and terrible in a way that's a pale echo of the kind of guided, intense, monomaniacal, misguided folklorism of the 19thC that informed nationalist movements in the pre-WWI and immediate post-Woodrow Wilson aftermath. You can just imagine the kinds of shitfights about regulation and ownership you'd have got on an Austro-Hungarian Wikipedia at the turn of the 20th century (admittedly, there would have been spectacular lists of uniforms). A lot of those 'scholars' were even weirder than this poor kid, just as baroquely wrong about facts, went into occult and bizarre byways, and a lot of them were not nearly as innocent. We don't really appreciate any more the extent to which a lot of underemployed people with fixations on language tried to 'prove' that language cues and alphabets and mythological cycles meant that such-and-such a region was the eternal homeland of their people, that should be cleansed. It's all fun and games until some teenager fixated on ethnic idiom shoots an Archduke.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 5:22 PM on August 25 [18 favorites]


This is like the entire internet boiled down to one incident. Someone who is for whatever reason fixated on a topic and without insight is able to take over and seriously mangle a system

To be fair, this is also a huge amount of anything from the “Western” world about anything in the rest of the world thanks to colonialism.
posted by snofoam at 5:24 PM on August 25 [6 favorites]


One false Scotsman?
posted by snofoam at 5:26 PM on August 25 [8 favorites]


Seeing how this is playing out now, I feel rather bad for the kid who fell into what was basically a honeypot created by Wikipedia with its deeply misguided ethos.
posted by sjswitzer at 6:03 PM on August 25 [1 favorite]


Is there anything that we might consider a “good” online experiment?

The thing where people make twitter accounts for their dogs.
posted by needs more cowbell at 6:04 PM on August 25 [10 favorites]


Holy cow, that Meta Wiki page. One poster claimed that it was just that the Scots wiki "needed better style guides".
posted by scolbath at 6:24 PM on August 25 [3 favorites]


Cash4Lead: "As Robyn Speer points out, this has implications for translation software: If you have a multilingual language model, this fakery might be your _entire training data_ for Scots"

I just had this vision of the kid using a machine translator that had been trained on his wikipedia articles to translate more articles [cue The Circle of Life].
posted by adamrice at 6:38 PM on August 25 [8 favorites]


Is there anything that we might consider a “good” online experiment?

I dunnow, Zooniverse? Folding@Home? Feederwatch? HerpMapper? Project Gutenberg? Find-a-Grave?
posted by jessamyn at 7:17 PM on August 25 [18 favorites]


this is me finding that orthography odd

Seconding that. I'm Scottish, but not a fluent modern Scots (of any of its many dialects) speaker. I read some Scots, but slowly. Written Modern Scots (from about 1700 on: so lots of Burns and get your Hogg on) that I've seen doesn't use eth and yogh. It might have some quite baroque spellings (like “quh—” where we'd now have “wh—”). But the written language has been reconstituted (MacDiarmid's synthetic Scots) from various sources, and it's fairly clear that some researchers want to reintroduce Old Scots orthography as much as possible, for $reasons.

a “good” online experiment?

OpenStreetMap, though it does suffer from some colonial armchair mapping assumptions.
posted by scruss at 7:46 PM on August 25 [9 favorites]


This "teenager" made his or her first edit to the Scots Wiki on Feb 10, 2013 (so likely not a teenager any more), but here's an article from The Scotsman from 5 years before that about the Scots Wiki:
Stuart Kelly, Scotland on Sunday's literary editor, felt the site failed to do justice to the rich heritage of Scots. He said: "I don't think anyone nowadays considers Scots as slang or 'incorrect English'. However, this seems convoluted at best, and an absolute parody at worst. "The great tradition of Douglas, Burns, Scott and MacDiarmid means more than just altering the vowels and dropping the g from present participles." Ted Brocklebank, culture spokesman for the Scottish Tories, felt attempts to create a universal Scots language were contrived and doomed to failure. He said: "There are a number of rich variations of the English language spoken in Scotland, from Doric in the north-east, to Lallans in the Borders and the Nordic Scots of Orkney and Shetland. But none of them qualify as languages in their own right. "This website appears to be a cheap attempt at creating a language. Simply taking an English word and giving it a Scots phonetic does not make it into a Scots word."
There's definitely something wrong with one person being responsible for that much of the content, but perhaps it's unfair to think that they single-handedly took over and destroyed it.
posted by L.P. Hatecraft at 7:48 PM on August 25


Is there anything that we might consider a “good” online experiment?

Is the jury still out on this one?
posted by biogeo at 7:57 PM on August 25 [11 favorites]


Shortly after the r/Scotland post linked in the OP, a (different) sco.wikipedia admin posted an AMA there. Among the interesting revelations therein: none of the project's admins are native Scots speakers.
posted by Not A Thing at 8:20 PM on August 25 [11 favorites]


Are any of them at least fluent speakers?

As far as using the older orthography goes I generally prefer that for a couple of reasons. The first is that I see it as working to reinforce the idea that Scots is a separate language and not a dialect of English. The second is that the font nerd in me just likes those characters. As to confusing the translation into older Scots for Scots Gaelic, that alone should have gotten this fellows admin privileges yanked. It looks nothing like Gaelic. Nothing.
posted by Ignorantsavage at 8:30 PM on August 25 [4 favorites]


Update via Twitter: some Scots speakers are assisting, and also it seems showing compassion to the admin. And it seems more and more like the admin is a young and obsessive person for whom it has all got out of hand.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 8:57 PM on August 25 [5 favorites]


See also this thread.

"A'v bin tawkin wi the Scots admin, an he's no in ae guid wey at aw. He's isnae takkin aw this awfy weel.

A'm actual feart fur him! A'm wirrit thit he micht dae somehing tae hissel..."
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 8:59 PM on August 25 [8 favorites]


This is also how we got the Voynich manuscript.
posted by bigbigdog at 9:52 PM on August 25 [9 favorites]


What purpose could it serve in a best-case scenario?

They don't give Wikipedias to regional dialects of English, but they do give Wikipedias to non-English languages in the Germanic family.
posted by save alive nothing that breatheth at 10:15 PM on August 25


... plus blowback to them for this comment as being insincere and a dodge and a failure to take responsibility.

That would matter if they were asking for their articles to be kept or to be allowed to continue to edit, but if they are stepping back and letting people who know more about Scots decide what to do about it, it seems pointless to try to judge how sincere they are or whether they are taking sufficient responsibility.
posted by straight at 10:15 PM on August 25


As someone who has spent an unreasonable amount of time editing a small wiki, explosion has it right.

The problem with places like Wikipedia and Reddit is that there's a huge first-mover advantage. This guy became the Administrator of the Scots wikipedia, and he's able to use the tools to force reverts of his edits and writings. He can ban someone who tries to fix it.

The wiki I edit has a guy, and they are almost all guys, who basically runs it by force of having been there forever, often pretty much on his own it seems. There are more editors now but I get told something wrong is policy because it has 10,000+ plus examples in articles. All created by this first mover. Facts and statistics will not get in the way of folk linguistics.

I once wound up intervening on the Fijian Hindi wiki of all places (Don't know anything about the language) because a user who finally got blocked after thousands of disruptive articles decided to set up shop over there with a dictionary and an obsessive axe to grind.

Minority language wikis could be important and for exactly that reason need some care from those who do actually know the languages. Unfortunately, there are just far better things for most of them to do
posted by Gotanda at 10:37 PM on August 25 [12 favorites]


i_am_joe's_spleen: Ugh, that's terrible to hear. Poor guy. Yeah, he screwed up something big that has the potential to be important to a lot of people, but in the grand scheme of things it's fixable and no one's permanently hurt. Internet mobs are a horrible thing to have to deal with. From that Twitter thread it sounds like there's at least a few native speakers who are also language nerds enough to get where this guy was coming from, however misguided, and I hope they can give him a bit of community to weather the storm until it passes.

I wish people would be more careful about blaming systems failures on conveniently visible individuals.
posted by biogeo at 10:45 PM on August 25 [4 favorites]


Are any of them at least fluent speakers?

Is anyone?
posted by CCBC at 10:45 PM on August 25


they started to create new pages starting with four seemingly unrelated (?) cities: Sapporo, Japan;

Jeez, even his first very page, short as it is, is wrong: Sapporo isn't the fourth-largest city in Japan, Nagoya is.
posted by Umami Dearest at 10:52 PM on August 25


Jeez, even his first very page, short as it is, is wrong: Sapporo isn't the fourth-largest city in Japan, Nagoya is.

EN Wikipedia at the time said it was the fourth, and that was only changed in 2017. And that's another small problem with being the sole editor of 10 thousand pages: aint nobody got time to update that 10,000 pages annually, let alone daily.
posted by pwnguin at 11:40 PM on August 25 [2 favorites]


I can see how this kind of thing starts, given his age back then. Up until I was 12 or so I assumed languages were like my (basic) understanding of secret codes - all the letters are swapped around, so you just need to know which letters to replace with which other letters and you can translate into another language. People who could speak fluently were just able to do that really, really quickly.

When I then started learning a foreign language I realised it was different, but initially I assumed it was whole words, not individual letters, that were different – you'd just swap each English word for the foreign language equivalent and there was your translation. A few lessons in and I realised there was a bit more to it.

So I can see how someone young could start off "translating" things, with the back up of an online dictionary, and assume they're doing a good job. And then if no one tells them otherwise, they continue. And continue, and continue. By the time they get some occasional criticism it's outweighed by the thousands and thousands of edits they've made that haven't been criticised, so it's probably seen as a minor issue – they've done all this "successful" work on something as high profile as Wikipedia, so they must be doing something right!

I'd hope the doubts would appear before doing quite so much work, but I can see how it gets going.
posted by fabius at 2:12 AM on August 26 [13 favorites]


The first is that I see it as working to reinforce the idea that Scots is a separate language and not a dialect of English.
OTOH, where Scots is a living language spoken by people who aren't language enthusiasts or idealists, it'd probably look more like the modern spellings.

If Scotland became independent, we might see something similar to what happened in Norway, where there are two Norwegian languages: Bokmål (which is essentially a dialect of modern Danish with Norwegian spellings and usages) and Nynorsk (“New Norwegian”, which revived traditional Norwegian usages and grammatical forms; IIRC, it has a more complex grammar and masculine/feminine/neuter noun genders rather than en- and ett- words like Danish and Swedish). In the case of Scotland 50 years after independence, its Bokmål may be essentially a dialect of British English as spoken in Scotland with some words respelled to match pronunciation ("oot" in lieu of "out", for example) and some uniquely Scottish usages such as "ootwith". Its Nynorsk, meanwhile, would be a revived Scots, which, to prevent it from melting into English, would consciously preserve traditional forms.

The second is that the font nerd in me just likes those characters.

Agreed. I still think it's a shame that English lost the Þ and ð letters that mapped phonetically to its two “th” sounds (as in “thistle” and “there”), largely out of outsourcing movable type design to the Dutch.
posted by acb at 2:13 AM on August 26 [6 favorites]


The Redditor who originally posted about the problem with Scots Wikipedia has updated their writeup to start:
EDIT : I've been told that the editor I've written about has received some harassment for what they've done. This should go without saying but I don't condone this at all. They screwed up and I'm sure they know that by now. They seem like a nice enough person who made a mistake when they were a young child, a mistake which nobody ever bothered to correct, so it's hardly their fault. They're clearly very passionate and dedicated, and with any luck maybe they can use this as an opportunity to learn the language properly and make a positive contribution. If you're reading this I hope you're doing alright and that you're not taking it too personally.
MJL, a Scots Wikipedia administrator who is running the Reddit AMA previously mentioned, is also on Twitter.
posted by brainwane at 2:34 AM on August 26 [7 favorites]


"doesn't use eth and yogh"

I'll give you eth. But although John Menzies used to sell books and newspapers to citizens of Edinburgh who pronounced the "z" like a zed, most of them knew how it "should" have been pronounced and some of them even knew why.

Pronounce "Dalziel" that way and you'd be mocked though, yet pretty much nobody pronounces Mackenzie anything like they pronounce McConaughey.

The zed / yogh pretty much sums up the language spoken by Scots if you ask me.
posted by GeckoDundee at 5:13 AM on August 26 [3 favorites]


Of course, one implication of this is that Scotland will need a new keyboard layout.
posted by acb at 5:46 AM on August 26 [1 favorite]


What's amazing to me is that he doesn't seem to have got any better at Scots over this period either. You'd think that if you spent this much time with it you'd end up producing written Scots that was maybe not fluent (but then dialects vary enormously anyway and many fluent speakers basically never write it anyway) but at least ok.

It's got all the classic characteristics of the 2020 internet.

1) One uninformed oddball spends a vast amount of time creating a massive edifice that is worth very little but that looks authoritative because of the lack of gatekeeping.

2) It gets noticed and immediately creates a vast discussion

3) Someone decides that the best use of their time is harassment
posted by atrazine at 6:03 AM on August 26 [3 favorites]


Folks have been dancing around the problem, so I'll just say it directly.

Experts matter.

Wikipedia's whole premise is "anyone can edit, anyone can contribute!" That works some times. But when it fails it often fails spectacularly.

No reputable encyclopedia should be regularly edited by a 12 year old child. No document should be primarily written by someone who does not fluently speak the language of that document. 12 year olds and language learners lack the necessary expertise.

Wikipedia has a culture of contempt for expertise. And certainly experts are never compensated. That's enabled a really great trove of English language knowledge, all written for free. Unfortunately that trove is studded with little bits of shit everywhere, English articles that are false or hopelessly biased or just badly edited. And fiercely defended by their ignorant authors. It sort of works, but it could be better. But English is the best case.

Then you have something like this with Scots Wikipedia, a systemic mockery of an entire language and culture. Because there weren't enough volunteer experts doing the work in Scots, just some ignorant kid. And when the experts pointed out problems the kid just bullied his way through to dominating the whole project. It is a systemic failure of Wikipedia culture and management.

And now we have the calls to fix it. "Hey, look what a good starting place we have! All we need is to flag all the bad articles, get some experts to volunteer thousands of hours rewriting them, and we'll be fine! Get to it, Scots!" Fuck that. Burn the whole corrupt Scots Wikipedia down. Don't start over until you have a system in place to codify what Scots language even is. This measure is doubly sensible since (I believe) every single Scots speaker can read the English wikipedia just fine. The importance of the Scots Wikipedia is more as a document written in Scots than a lifeline to folks who can't access the English wikipedia.
posted by Nelson at 6:47 AM on August 26 [23 favorites]


Is anyone else thinking about this in comparison to Anna, of Long Chile/Ohio2 fame? [previously.] She also apparently made some (US English) Wikipedia edits (to the page on Mallard ducks) at age 12, and the map that went viral at age 16, but everything about her disinformation campaign of sorts feels different than this.
posted by needs more cowbell at 8:45 AM on August 26 [2 favorites]


It's terrible, and terrible in a way that's a pale echo of the kind of guided, intense, monomaniacal, misguided folklorism of the 19thC ...

The Reverend Edward Casaubon would like a word with you
posted by a Rrose by any other name at 8:56 AM on August 26 [4 favorites]


It says a lot about this situation that lots of people are frantically pointing to the exchanges with Amadan1995 in 2014 and 2016, as evidence of AmaryllisGardener ignoring the input of an actual expert in the language.

Here's the problem: Amadan1995 is a notorious crackpot in his own right, and better known as "the Focurc guy". Google that word.

One day, this guy decided that what he grew up speaking in the outskirts of Falkirk - probably more Scottish English than Scots - was actually a completely separate language of its own, named it "Focurc", invented his own orthography for it, and then started showing up all over the internet and the newspapers trying to make it a thing, to varying degrees of foreign credulity and linguistic ridicule.

When he showed up on the Scots Wikipedia, writing in his own invented orthography, AmaryllisGardener - despit having no direct experience of the language himself - was actually correct in spotting that Amadan1995's contributions bore no resemblance to other written Scots.

Everyone in this thread who is pointing to those exchanges as an intervention from a competent source is therefore doing a worse job of recognising good advice on the language than this poor kid was.

I've spent much of my life in Scotland, and I follow spoken & written Scots to some degree - but I don't speak it. Even I can see though that both those editors were writing things that a native speaker wouldn't recognise.

Scots mostly exists as a verbal language at this point, with a lot of regional differences, and everyone who speaks it has been taught to write and read in English. Most people that speak Scots probably wouldn't feel confident of trying to write it down "correctly".

That makes the whole concept of a written Scots encyclopedia seriously challenging in the first place, but trying to write one as a public wiki project makes it addiextremely vulnerable to Dunning-Kruger problems in both directions.

I don't know if it's a viable project at all. It would be sad if it isn't, but it would be sadder still for it to continue as it is.

Beacuse native speakers of the language have commented that they looked at this stuff, didn't recognise it as familiar, and therefore concluded that their own spoken language wasn't "proper" Scots.
posted by automatronic at 9:18 AM on August 26 [42 favorites]


Wikipedia has a culture of contempt for expertise.

I think it's a little more complicated than that -- for example, peer-reviewed scholarship by experts enjoys a level of respect/adulation on Wikipedia that can itself be problematic. What do typically get treated with contempt on-wiki are expressions of expertise that evaluate to "because I, the Wikipedia user, am an expert and I said so." This balance has some good reasons for existing, and some bad ones; and it works adequately in some areas, and terribly in others. But my experience has been that the particular background linguistic knowledge that makes the difference between "fluent speaker" and "person with access to some reference works" is something that the model of an open wiki is inherently bad at accommodating.

(I'm thinking here particularly of Wiktionary, a project to which I devoted some years of my life but which drives me to despair when I dip back in and see the same tiny group of people arguing in the same tiny, tired circles about the same linguistic judgment calls.)
posted by Not A Thing at 9:44 AM on August 26 [5 favorites]


There is a vast gulf between editing a single article on mallard ducks and filling a minority language's Wikipedia content with a farcical representation of that language. It's the difference between spilling a bit of gasoline and Deepwater Horizon. Only one has wide ranging damage - from the perception of Scots as a 'real' language to feeding bad data into NLP algorithms.

He made about 200,000 more edits then she did. Of course there are different responses.
posted by Behemoth, in no. 302-bis, with the Browning at 10:08 AM on August 26


EN Wikipedia at the time said it was the fourth, and that was only changed in 2017

This is an excellent example of the problem with relying on a Wikipedia page as an iron-clad reference source. Sapporo was, in the real world, the fifth-largest city in Japan in February 2013, when the original Scots-language article was written. Sapporo has been the fifth-largest city in Japan since the 1990 census, and it still is today. (It was #6 in 1980; it has never been #4.)

Sapporo is a real-world place that I have visited. (It's known for its excellent ramen.) The fact that some confused editor of one particular English-language Wikipedia mistakenly said it was the fourth-largest city in Japan, and the mistake wasn't corrected until 2017, doesn't mean that is was ever true.

Thinking that a link to the revision history of an erroneous Wikipedia page can refute real-world facts just illustrates the larger problem with our reliance on Wikipedia.
posted by Umami Dearest at 10:30 AM on August 26 [10 favorites]


Thinking that a link to the revision history of an erroneous Wikipedia page can refute real-world facts just illustrates the larger problem with our reliance on Wikipedia.

I never said the fact was true, simply that it was also found on the EN wikipedia. But I suppose that without the bog standard "never trust anything on the internet" disclaimer, one might infer that I was offering a "it was true" defense. I don't. I don't even know if what you're saying is true, because I don't have any way of reading a Japanese census link, even if I found one. Even the guy who corrected it didn't offer any citation, so I guess I have to take his word for it.

I just don't think it's a mark against the translator to replicating the misinformation in the source material. Obviously it's a bit anglocentric to assume en.wikipedia is the "real" encyclopedia, and that everything else is just a translation from "the source," but I'll go out on a limb and say that's what was done here. Since it replicated that exact disinformation and all. I'm kinda guessing a lot of non-EN articles start off as translations of EN as a matter of convenience, but I can be easily persuaded otherwise by knowledgable Wikipedians.
posted by pwnguin at 10:59 AM on August 26


German Wikipedia is absolutely nothing like a translation of EN Wikipedia. You can look at it for yourself and see the giant differences. I can't speak to other languages, but I'm passable in German and have read articles about the same subject matter in both English and German and they're entirely different, from structure to approach to information.
posted by hippybear at 11:11 AM on August 26 [7 favorites]


That's my experience with German Wikipedia as well. I mean, you might occasionally stumble upon an article which is just badly translated from EN Wiki, but I habitually check both versions when availabe, because there are usually enough relevant differences.

When I write something for German Wiki on a topic which already has an article in English, I might indeed start with a translation, but only when I can check the cited sources myself and so far I've always added information from my own research/ tried to find additional German sources for relevant aspects. (It's highly recommended that a German article should also have some German sources when possible, so that only-German-speakers can also easily check original sources). But I didn't just decide to write my own articles one day, I went to one of the regular wikipedia-for-newbies workshops at the local library, where you get told to do all this stuff.
posted by sohalt at 11:34 AM on August 26 [1 favorite]


 "the Focurc guy".

oh ffs. It's no surprise that “Get tae Falkirk!” is a thing.

ȝ died out in printed Scots in the 18th century, pretty much, as printing was cheaper and better quality in continental Europe. “Looks like a z”, they said, and we got stuck with it. Except, seemingly, in Falkirk.
posted by scruss at 1:44 PM on August 26 [3 favorites]


There is cross-fertilization between different language wikipedias, and it goes both ways. Back when I was willing to give a damn about editing Wikipedia, I translated a few articles from the Japanese Wikipedia into English. They quickly took on a life of their own in English, and I think that some of the English changes even percolated back into Japanese. Which, I have to admit, is pretty cool.

For facts that can be expressed in numbers or with restricted vocabularies, I'm pretty sure there would be a way to mark up multiple wikipedias so those facts stay in sync, eg "Sapporo is the {{ja:Sapporo:population_rank subst:ordinal}} largest city in Japan." But that markup gets complex, and of course you're relying on volunteers not to mess it up.
posted by adamrice at 1:50 PM on August 26


ȝ died out in printed Scots in the 18th century

DSL has it cited for some uses of "ye", which confuses me but so does "ye" itself. I use ye vs ya in distinct ways (eg "I could kiss ye, ya daft bam") but it's at the same level of subconscious operation as English adjective ordering is.

As a (west coast) shibboleth it's better than "can put 'an aw' in the correct position", but that particular belter is still going to amuse me forever.
posted by bonaldi at 6:08 PM on August 26 [4 favorites]


CSD has ȝe up until the late 16th century. It really never made it into modern Scots. Sure, we use y or z in place of ȝ, but the distinct letter went out with the Darien scheme.
posted by scruss at 8:16 PM on August 26 [3 favorites]


Just to add my personal experience editing Wikipedia: I've fixed several typos and broken links, and made some more substantial edits, and most of my edits (about 100 total) stand, thank goodness.

I really appreciate Wikipedia, and all the people who make good and accurate contributions. I use Wikipedia maybe a dozen times a day, including Spanish and French Wikipedia.

It has real, gigantic problems - the kind of thing this young person did, and much more egregiously the lack of a reliable mechanism to address that sort of thing; and the rules-lawyering; and the sexism (and undoubtedly other biases, but that's the one I know the most about); and many more; and I really hope the organization and community will someday (soon, even) figure out how to fix those problems.

As utterly flawed as it is, though, for me, it's still a huge boon in my life, and I'm glad it exists.
posted by kristi at 10:07 PM on August 26 [5 favorites]


Now that it's been brought to their attention, wikipedia is working on having a good Scots page.
posted by Nancy Lebovitz at 4:08 AM on August 27


hmm, they also started making edits the year the pixar movie Brave came out (when they would have been twelve). coincidence? very possibly. but cultural fetishism it seems to me often moves kind of metonymically. a friend of mine became obsessed with china (culturally, politically) after developing an “asian fetish” (ugh i know, look i tried my best to talk it out of him); the movement from “i love this particular (asian) woman” to “i love asians” to “china is the greatest” seemed painfully clear to me... the problem for the fetishist is how to not know too much about the other so as to maintain their fascination/obsession; so if he actually learned Scots, moved to Scotland, etc. maybe he would no longer be obsessed, because it would have just become the water he swims in
posted by LeviQayin at 6:29 AM on August 27 [4 favorites]


I came across the atlas of Scots Syntax from this tweet by one of its creators: People who are learning a bit about Scots via some Wikipedia controversy might like to know that we spent four years creating a whole atlas (w tons of recordings, Young/old comparison)
posted by ambrosen at 4:15 PM on August 27 [4 favorites]


This Gizmodo article by Victoria Song goes into some of the structural problems with the WMF's small wiki communities, with examples from the Azerbaijani, Cebuano and (especially troubling) Croatian Wikipedias.

(IMX the truly weirdest situations involve the other WMF branches like Wikisource and Wikibooks, but those tend to be much lower-stakes.)
posted by Not A Thing at 5:13 PM on August 27 [2 favorites]


The Wikipedia 'brand name' is working against itself here. Against the Scots speakers, too.

If this were just viewed as a not successful attempt to make a Scots encyclopedia that failed to engage many native Scots speakers the harm would be low. It'd be just another of many failed projects on the web

Conversely, I'm sort of annoyed that the response to this disaster is that Scots speakers should (or feel they have to) bail out Wikipedia by helping fix this because the failure by these randos reflects poorly on their language.
posted by mark k at 5:38 PM on August 27 [8 favorites]


Not A Thing: This Gizmodo article by Victoria Song goes into some of the structural problems with the WMF's small wiki communities, with examples from the Azerbaijani, Cebuano and (especially troubling) Croatian Wikipedias.

Holy fuck! Wikipedia is allowing a bunch of Neo-Nazis full reign over the Croatian branch:
According to the Signpost, an internal Wikipedia newsletter, an edit war ensued but ultimately, a small group of Neo-Nazi administrators essentially now have full reign over the Croatian Wikipedia. “Many editors, including some of the dissenting admins, have left Croatian Wikipedia,” the Signpost reports. “Those who haven’t abandoned Wikipedia altogether are resigned to edit elsewhere, chiefly at Serbo-Croatian Wikipedia. Since there is no opposition left, change has become impossible without outside intervention.”
posted by Kattullus at 12:33 AM on August 28 [8 favorites]


Everyone in this thread who is pointing to those exchanges as an intervention from a competent source is therefore doing a worse job of recognising good advice on the language than this poor kid was.

We are the Dunning-Kruger effect.
posted by MattWPBS at 4:21 AM on August 28 [8 favorites]


What do typically get treated with contempt on-wiki are expressions of expertise that evaluate to "because I, the Wikipedia user, am an expert and I said so."

Which reminded me of this:

An Open Letter to Wikipedia, by Philip Roth: " ... the Wikipedia entry discussing my novel “The Human Stain” ... contains a serious misstatement ... [Yet I] was told by the 'English Wikipedia Administrator' ... that I, Roth, was not a credible source."
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 8:21 AM on August 28 [3 favorites]


Mr. Know-it-some, you've further reminded me of another similar case - Olivia Colman once spotted that they had her age wrong, and contacted them, with proof it was her, asking them to change it to the correct age. They said they would only do so if she provided a birth certificate - to which she replied "whose fucking birth certificate did you look at in the first place that made me eight years older?"
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:16 AM on August 28 [9 favorites]


Wondering what spoken Scots sounds like? Here's ten episodes of the Accentricity Podcast, hosted by University of Glasgow sociolinguist, Sadie Ryan. Learned how much Scots is scorned in UK society.
posted by Jesse the K at 12:53 PM on August 28 [4 favorites]


The funny thing is, had Roth instead taken an interview with another New Yorker writer, it would probably have qualified as a secondary source.

Regarding Coleman’s birthday, I read a similar story about Jimmy Wales himself. His birthday was wrong but he could not get it fixed.
posted by sjswitzer at 3:21 PM on August 28 [1 favorite]


Most folks want to also get the right info in and that takes an extra step, but I think getting wrong info out should be a simple matter of [citation needed]? Though recalcitrant editors and admins would make things more difficult, surely.

FWIW, the wikipedia talk page for Olivia Colman seems to be mostly a bunch of people unable to find any evidence of this ever happening.
posted by pwnguin at 3:37 PM on August 28 [1 favorite]


Wrong info is often cited properly by wiki standards.

FWIW, the wikipedia talk page for Olivia Colman seems to be mostly a bunch of people unable to find any evidence of this ever happening.

Oh, it's easy to find evidence of this happening, there's the link above and a Harper's article.

Everyone at Wikipedia going through Wikipedia versions to confirm the "truth" is doing original research and should probably be banned from editing pages at wikipedia.
posted by mark k at 3:56 PM on August 28 [2 favorites]


had Roth instead taken an interview with another New Yorker writer, it would probably have qualified as a secondary source

No, just needed to be published; the Wikipedia article now cites the New Yorker article by Roth.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 7:12 PM on August 28 [1 favorite]


Everyone at Wikipedia going through Wikipedia versions to confirm the "truth" is doing original research and should probably be banned from editing pages at wikipedia.

That discussion is happening on the talk page for the article, where it's fine to talk about things found from original research, you just shouldn't add them to the article unless you can find sources to back them up.

But it's okay, because there's now an article confirming that Wikipedia didn't get the date wrong published in The Conversation, which is listed as a reliable source and can therefore by policy be cited in the Wikipedia article - despite the fact that the piece itself links to Wikipedia talk pages as a source of its information.

It's turtles all the way down.
posted by automatronic at 2:06 AM on August 29 [5 favorites]


Everyone in this thread who is pointing to those exchanges as an intervention from a competent source is therefore doing a worse job of recognising good advice on the language

My apologies for introducing that person into the conversation, but in my defence, my main surprise was more the bit where he reacted with “Well, what you have there looks more like Scottish Gaelic or Irish”, which is just weirdly incoherent, because it's clearly nothing like Gaelic (or Irish).

Also the yogh/ȝ didn't surprise me as much as it might because I do occasionally see (cogent) tweets retweeted into my timeline by a land reform campaigner who writes their surname as Dalȝell.
posted by ambrosen at 6:24 AM on August 29


YouTube series: Scots Language An Accent - Introduction to Scots from MindYerLanguage.
posted by Lanark at 8:00 AM on August 29


my main surprise was more the bit where he reacted with “Well, what you have there looks more like Scottish Gaelic or Irish”, which is just weirdly incoherent, because it's clearly nothing like Gaelic (or Irish).

Agreed. I speak no Scots, but I do speak English and some German. The sample is pretty clearly Germanic, whatever it is, and the editor calling it Gaelic points to a real failure to read past the orthography. It's very much consistent with the rest of his project: he's got no linguistic knowledge. It's not just the Scots language he's ignorant of, but of languages in general.

The "an aw" example discussed above is a pretty good example. To my untrained eye, I'd read that as a direct analog to "and all". If I were attempting a word-for-word translation into Scots armed with nothing but a dictionary, would lead me to not use that in place of "also" in cases where I couldn't comfortably substitute "and all" in the English version. That's seems to basically be the cases that were mentioned above as inappropriate.

That he forged ahead and used "an aw" as the generic translation of "also" tells me he never made that analysis. It's ironic that one of the main charges is that his "translations" hew too closely to the English, but that particular example is one where he'd have been better off sticking closer to the English.

He's clearly passionate, but I strongly suspect he never learned a second language in school and never developed the critical analysis tools that can bring. If the United States were a place with more and better language education, this might have turned out differently. We start so late, and with so few options in most places.
posted by vibratory manner of working at 10:58 PM on August 29 [2 favorites]


Twitter thread on progress since the news broke: "A lot has happened in a week. .... the formation of a keen volunteer community and a partnership with an official language-revival body. Great to see."
posted by brainwane at 4:15 AM on September 3 [5 favorites]


I've spent much of my life in Scotland, and I follow spoken & written Scots to some degree - but I don't speak it. Even I can see though that both those editors were writing things that a native speaker wouldn't recognise.

OMG automatronic, I'm so glad you said that, I thought I was going insane! I read that paragraph from Amadan1995 and everyone was talking about it as if it was 'proper Scots' yet it bore absolutely zero resemblance to any Scots I've ever seen. Even allowing for the multitude of variations of Scots, it was completely alien, I was just blinking at it and blinking at it. I'd heard of the Falkirk guy, had forgotten about him, so putting those two together and reassuring me that I've not lost my mind (or my admittedly slight, non-native recognition of Scots) is a great relief.

I'm originally English, but have lived in Scotland for 37% of my life (worked out in response to the 10% commenter upthread) and so have seen and heard Scots here and there for many years without being in any way an expert. I generally find the articles written in Scots in The National (pro-indy newspaper) to be reasonably comprehensible to me as an English speaker with a familiarity with some Scots vocab (examples: one, two, three) - and Amadan1995's effort was definitely not comprehensible (not that me being able to understand it is a benchmark of being properly Scots, it was just so unfamiliar).

The National also has a couple of articles about the Scots Wikipedia stooshie, btw - when it first broke and about the efforts to update it.

It's interesting, in my work I often have to tweak other people's writing to ready it for publication, sometimes people's first-person accounts of their own experiences, sometimes the writing of colleagues who aren't confident in their writing. They can have a variety of grammar/spelling fluctuations etc.

I've a couple of colleagues who are particularly prone to writing structures that to my ears sound like things you'd only use in spoken language and so need correcting in print eg. "There is a lot of people who think..." (rather than "there are") "I seen a dog today" (instead of "I saw" or "I've seen"). To my ears, they're spoken formulations, but they're also much more commonly heard in Scotland than England. I always used to change them and standardise them, but I'm more and more inclined to leave them in these days as a nod to being an authentic, correct form of their own.

Guess it happens everywhere - growing up in Essex, people would say "You was funny yesterday" (instead of were), but if you wrote that in your homework, your teacher would be all over it with the red pen.
posted by penguin pie at 1:17 PM on September 12 [4 favorites]


Arguably it "should" actually be "There is a lot of people..." instead of "There are...", if we were to be rigorously prescriptivist and regular, since "lot" is a singular noun. Of course to me it also feels like "There are a lot of people..." is more correct, which I presume is because I (and I guess a lot of other speakers) don't actually parse this phrase with "lot" being a noun modified by "of people", but rather with the phrase "a lot of" acting like an adjective modifying "people," such that the phrase "a lot of" is parsed as a syntactic unit synonymous with "many". It's an interesting irregularity in English grammar that I'd never really thought about before until you pointed it out.
posted by biogeo at 2:27 PM on September 12 [2 favorites]


Experts matter.

Unfortunately field experts also sometimes act in this same fixated, unreasonable way, so just introducing experts won’t fix the larger problem of a few Wikipedia process-lawyers being able to dominate the encyclopedia and enshrine a misleading, idiosyncratic, or just plain inaccurate view of their field.
posted by en forme de poire at 11:02 AM on September 20


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